Social Commentary Writing

Independence Day

Obama’s Last Campaign Rally, Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 5, 2012.

(Re-blogged from my post on Blog for Iowa, July 4, 2010).

We hear a lot about the founding fathers today, and the truth is who they were, as people, is clouded in the river of time. One admires the portrait of John Adams written by David McCullough, and particularly the personal risk to which Adams put himself on his trip to France in the winter of 1777. In Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia one can find a guide to living that serves in the 21st Century, with the notable exception that labor to maintain a lifestyle, once provided by slaves, must now be sought elsewhere through mechanization or wage laborers. The more we study the opening of the Old Northwest Territory we realize that Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and other founders could easily have fit in with the gang on Wall Street that nearly brought down our economic structure in 2008. But as was said, seeing who they were as people is a murky endeavor at best, so on Independence Day we can refrain from making judgments and be thankful for what we have as a nation.

What can be said is we often neglect to recall the dispossession of the natives in Iowa and further east, which amid today’s flag waving is equally important. Would Black Hawk and Poweshiek have ceded the land of the Black Hawk Purchase if they had fully understood what their signatures meant? We don’t know that either.

So what we are left with is history and documents from the times, all of which have their ideological outlook or viewpoint. Of interest is the following account of an Independence Day celebration in Jones County, Iowa shortly after settlement. Members of our family settled in Jones County shortly after the Black Hawk War, so this is a personal history as well. Happy Independence Day from Blog for Iowa.

An Excerpt from The History of Jones County, Iowa, published Chicago, Western Historical Company in 1879.

A grand county celebration of the Fourth of July, took place in pursuance of the resolutions and suggestions of the Board of Supervisors, made at their June meeting in 1861. The celebration was on Thursday, the 4th of July. 1861.

The perilous condition of the country brought men of all parties together to observe the anniversary of our national birth, and to repeat anew their vows to freedom. Early in the morning, teams, singly and in companies, began to throng from all parts of the county toward the point which had been designated by the Board of Supervisors, near the center of the county. At 10 o’clock, A. M., the scene was the strangest of the kind ever encountered in the West. The road ran along a high ridge, and on both sides of it and on each of the wide and gently sloping spurs, shooting out every few rods, were horses, wagons, buggies, carriages, men, women, children and babies by the thousands; and, in every direction, the American flag floated in the light and refreshing breeze, which, with the shade of the sufficiently abundant oaks, tempered the heat of a warm summer day. Such an assembly in a city is common enough, but this was an assembly in the wilderness. Not a house, not a sign that man had touched nature here was visible, save in the few brief days’ labor of the Committee of Preparation. It was a fitting place wherein to assemble on such a day and for such a purpose, when the nation was in its life and death struggle for existence.

The Committee of Arrangements had done as well as could be hoped for in the short time allowed them, and better than could have been expected. On the rather steep slope of a spur, north of the road, a staging had been erected facing up the slope, and, in front of this, seats sufficient to accommodate, perhaps, one thousand persons. Back of the stage, and at the bottom of the ravine, a well had been dug some ten or more feet deep, and, at the bottom, a barrel fixed. It was a comical sort of a well, but it served the purpose, in a measure, for some hours.

On another ridge and back of the wall, stood the six-pounder, manned by the Wyoming Artillery Company, in gray shirts, under Capt. Walker. The other military companies were the Canton Company, Capt. Hanna; they wore red military coats, were armed with rifles and were fine looking; the Rough and Ready?, of Rome, Capt. L. A. Roberts, with blue military coats, white pants and glazed caps, sixty-five men, also fine looking; Carpenter’s Company, Rome. Capt. Carpenter, eighty men, with gray coats, likewise made a fine appearance; the Greenfield Company, mounting eighty men, John Sccrist, Commander: these were in frock coats and wore white plumes; they, too, showed well, and still more in drill and fitness for the most desperate fighting; the Scotch Grove Guards, from Scotch Grove. Capt. Magee, formed a large company; these wore no uniforms, but their appearance indicated they were the right men for fighting. There were six companies of young men, all formed and drilled, in the space of three months. It appears that all these entered the army in due time and did good service.

The proceedings at the stand were patriotic and entertaining. During the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the general attention was close, and the responsibilities of the hour seemed to impress all minds. The singing with the Marshal waving the star-spangled banner to the words, was very effective. The address was by a Mr. Utley—a good Union speech, and was very generally approved. Music by the various military bands was abundant and lively. The picnic that followed was much enjoyed by all who partook of the dainties provided for the occasion. The military went through with some of their exercises and then the proceedings of the afternoon began, which consisted of speeches from different persons, when, owing to a want of an abundant supply of water, the vast assembly was dispersed at a much earlier hour than it otherwise would have been.
It was evident that the loyalty of Jones County could be relied upon, and that her citizens were ready to do their full duty in crushing out treason.

Click here to read the entire history of Jones County.

Home Life Social Commentary


Milkweed on the state park trail.

It’s time to move forward.

In a couple of hours I’m heading to the farm for the last shift of soil blocking this year. After that the rest of the year is a blank slate.

I’ll be writing something on it, to be sure.

Yesterday was a quiet day in Big Grove Township. After working the garden, processing the harvest, exercising, and cooking dinner, I figured out how much of my pension would be left when the next check comes and donated to Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Theresa Greenfield and Rita Hart. A person’s gotta do something.

Some of the local grocery stores are recalling bagged lettuce because of contamination by the parasite Cyclospora. I’m picking up lettuce at the farm today, enough to hold us over until the next wave is ready in the garden. The crew takes appropriate precautions to ensure our food is safe, so I have little worry about what we eat when it comes from the farm.

2020 has been a hella way to transition. The coronavirus pandemic pushed me into retirement. With a pension that pays basic bills, I can test pilot a financial structure in which I no longer trade labor for dollars. It’s like universal basic income, only just for us in the disorganized mess U.S. society currently seems to be. For the longest time I directed my life to this place. I did not expect to make it here.

I think I forgot to take my prescription medicine before sleeping last night but feel okay this morning. Feeling good is an existential threat. It causes us to take risks we may otherwise not have taken. There is a four-day spike of COVID-19 cases in our county. Initial analysis by elected officials is most of the cases are young adults. In other words, people who live as if there is no tomorrow and they are invincible. They feel good now and cast aside recommendations by our public health staff (if they are even aware of them). I prefer to have a list of conditions which moderate my risk taking. I need to do something to remember to take my pill before going to bed.

Humans have no choice but to move forward. We cherish nostalgia yet it’s not enough to sustain us. We enjoy stories yet there is a difference between a narrative and what really happens. I believe it is possible to understand reality. When I suggested on social media I might view The Matrix, a friend posted a reply, “Jeezus, take the red pill already.” That’s fine, I think I did, but can’t remember. Instead of taking it again I’ll initiate the next step forward.

Home Life Politics

Summer Solstice 2020

Sugar Snap Peas

In these waning hours of spring I have no regrets.

There are challenges created by the coronavirus. There is a legacy of challenge from the before time. Many are substantial and require action. Summer starts at 4:43 p.m. today and with its new season comes hope of means and methodology to address what challenges us in a new paradigm.

Last night I had planned to escape into one of my favorite movies, The Matrix most likely, although Out of Africa or Blade Runner maybe. Instead, I listened to former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe interview Joe Biden’s campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon. The podcast made me hopeful that Democrats could win the Nov. 3 election. For my first ever podcast, it was not bad.

I became familiar with O’Malley Dillon when she was Iowa State Director for John Edwards’ presidential campaign. I re-read some of her emails from 2007 this morning and don’t have a memory of meeting her in person. She became part of the 2012 and 2016 Democratic presidential campaigns. She knows who she is and what she’s doing.

While I listened through headphones that cover my ears, I began to walk about. I had to roll up the 12-foot cord and stick it in my pocket so I wouldn’t trip on it. I did dishes and started a load of laundry that included my used home made face masks. I’m not a pod person but might be if others are this engaging. What she said revealed where political organizing stands in the coronavirus pandemic.

O’Malley Dillon thought the entire presidential campaign would be conducted virtually. She reported how the rate of contact through text messaging was high, and that because of the coronavirus it was important to keep canvassers safe. I am reluctant to relinquish in person campaigning and adapt to text and phone banking. The podcast put me on the way to overcoming my hesitation and joining the campaigns of Biden, Greenfield and Hart as a canvasser.

The tradition of canvassing is long in my family. My father organized for JFK in 1960. Working with his union, he was part of a substantial effort to elect Kennedy. Even though Richard Nixon won Iowa with 56.7 percent of the popular vote, our family celebrated Kennedy’s election. After the assassination, I did a small part in helping elect Lyndon Johnson by a landslide. Taking the in person part of canvassing out because of the coronavirus goes against the grain.

So much is at stake in the Nov. 3 election we have to get involved. While I’m busy with our garden I’m also figuring out how I will engage to elect Democrats. O’Malley Dillon and Plouffe put me on the road to doing that before the Summer Solstice.


Sustainability in the Coronavirus Pandemic Recovery

Garlic and onions from a test dig on June 17, 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic runs its course, governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again.

It’s now or never for the environment. Sustainability should be integrated into recovery plans because the health crisis, the economy and the environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery to improve environmental sustainability. There are only so many times trillions can be spent to jump start the economy. Sustainability must be considered and become part of any stimulus plan.

People have ideas on how to do that. The International Energy Agency developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” They revised “should” to “could” when recommending the plan, as a step toward political correctness in presentation. Sadly, no single logic applies to global matters. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the recovery.

Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels are surging back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States.

Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, one of the world’s foremost energy experts has warned.”

No one know how long we have. It’s common sense we will spend stimulus money in the quantities planned only once. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.

The fact that almost no one is talking about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.

Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.


Final Spring Days

Wild grape vine, June 16, 2020

Tuesday afternoon I went to the drive-through COVID-19 test site in Cedar Rapids and was screened. I arrived early and there was no line. I’m expecting a negative result on Friday.

The small city near us is evaluating a way to hold the annual festival celebrating beef. The committee in charge knows because of the pandemic it won’t be as in previous years — with hoards of people pressing around the hay bale toss. They feel a need to do something. So many non-profit organizations depend upon the money raised each year. Announcement of a modified festival is expected soon. While not a fan of beef, I do my part to support the good work being done in the community.

Vice President Mike Pence was in Iowa yesterday promoting a “Great American Comeback.” His assertion the worst of the pandemic is over and we can start returning to normal is absurd. At a rally held at a manufacturer of recreational vehicles attendees held Trump-Pence signs while wearing no personal protective equipment. Despite such made for press events the pandemic is far from over and we have no way to trace the infection as more people contract COVID-19. Pence is the poster child of potential disaster rooted in inaction.

We stay home most of the time. No restaurants, no visiting friends, no trips except to get the basics of survival or to exercise on the trail. I’m starting to need a haircut. It can wait. Everything can wait.

As spring turns to summer it has been a good one. One of the best I can recall. In isolation we heal and gain strength. It is as if we’ve sworn an oath of solitude and will persist until the pestilence is purged from the globe. It’s a matter of who’s in control. For the time being we are.


Theresa Greenfield Wants A Real Conversation With Iowans

Theresa Greenfield

What conversation does Joni Ernst want to have with Iowans about the fall election for United States Senate?

If a recent advertisement by the National Republican Senatorial Committee is an indication, she doesn’t want any conversation with Iowans. She’s letting third party interest groups do her dirty work hoping to ride the coat tails of Donald Trump to a second term.

The ad depicts Theresa Greenfield’s work as the president of a home building company in an unfavorable light. When I interviewed Greenfield about this work on Feb. 22 here’s what she said:

“I went into home building and eventually became the president of a small home building company in Iowa. That was fun through the recession, until it wasn’t any more fun. We sold the assets at the end of 2011.”

I included it in the profile as part of Greenfield’s work history. Senator Ernst and the NRSC are grasping at straws to make something of this work experience.

The company was Twin Cities-based Ruttlund Homes which went into receivership in 2011. Greenfield was president of the Iowa division when a global recession reduced property values and banks stopped lending. Thousands of home builders went out of business. Did Greenfield get caught up in the massive recession? Yes. Has she been honest about it? Also yes.

Part of being a successful businessperson is having experiences such as this one. How one learns and reacts to business challenges is the mettle of which character is made. While losing her business and source of income was disappointing, Greenfield’s resiliency enabled her to be successful in a commercial real estate company where she eventually became president.

The conversation Theresa Greenfield wants to have with Iowans is about resiliency, optimism, and the jobs we need to get done after the disastrous years Ernst served in the U.S. Senate. She wants to represent every Iowan.

If Ernst chooses to go negative, that’s her liability. Voters will hopefully see through the noise and vote for Greenfield.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


Get Ready to Vote for Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden in a May 2010 rope line in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Now that the primary elections are behind us it is time to look ahead politically toward the general election.

Get ready to vote for Joe Biden as president.

Biden is the only thing standing between us and another four years of a president who seeks to dismantle everything we’ve come to know.

Think I’m exaggerating?

During the coronavirus pandemic the president has suggested cutting payroll taxes multiple times. If he did, it would be an assault on Social Security and Medicare.

Donald Trump repeatedly said if elected to a second term he would cut Social Security and Medicare to address his out of control budget. Twice (Jan. 23 & March 2) he walked those comments back tweeting he would protect Social Security and Medicare. Which is it? Do you trust him?

Even today as the Congress contemplates a new pandemic relief bill Republicans are talking about raiding the Social Security Trust Fund. Some view the trust fund as a piggy bank they’d like to break open and spend if they could.

I’m not concerned for myself but for our daughter and her cohort. Since I was a teenager I knew there would be something to retire on in Social Security and contributed through payroll taxes for 50 years. I’d like the programs to be solvent and available for them.

Is Biden perfect? No. Get over it. Get ready to vote for Joe Biden on Nov. 3.

~ Published in the June 4, 2020 edition of the Solon Economist

Social Commentary Writing

A Death During the Pandemic

Sunrise May 27, 2020

No one wants to die early of COVID-19. This morning Johns Hopkins University reported there have been 1.7 million diagnoses of the disease in the United States and more than 100,000 people died because of it in less than four months.

May the souls of the departed rest in peace. May their families and friends find comfort as we go on with our lives.

I participate in TestIowa, the State of Iowa’s on line COVID-19 testing program. On Monday I was approved for testing and made an appointment at a drive-through test site 11 miles from home. Yesterday I arrived early for my appointment and there was no waiting. The site was well organized with lots of staff, including a half dozen uniformed Iowa National Guard soldiers directing traffic and maintaining security. The site could handle lot more tests than they were. The deep nasal swab used to take a culture was uncomfortable yet tolerable. The results should be posted to my on line portal by Saturday. This post is not about me.

I’m thinking about George Floyd who died after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck while he was being arrested. In a time of ubiquitous cameras and recorders the incident was captured on video multiple times and posted on the internet. It rightly provoked outrage. Four police officers were fired after Floyd’s death yet that shouldn’t be the end of it. Why weren’t they arrested? We know the answer. There was no justice for George Floyd. He did not deserve to die.

While passing the milestone of 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus garnered attention yesterday we cannot forget the systemic racism that permeates our culture. Americans are not free unless all of us are free. The death of another black man in the hands of police is evidence we are bound to racism that shows itself only rarely. Its roots run much deeper.

How do we address that? I don’t know but unless we recognize racism for what it is in our lives there will be no addressing it. We have to do more than react when another black man dies. That death tally is not being closely followed yet it is as important and more enduring than the coronavirus.

May George Floyd rest in peace.

Cooking Garden

Planning A Vegetable Garden

Pear Blossoms

Since retiring on Tuesday there has been one good day to work outside.

Tuesday and Wednesday were cool and dark with scattered showers. I read two books, reworked the family budget, and spent most of my time indoors.

Thursday was a glorious spring day when I measured and cleared the remaining three garden plots and planned the sequence of events and layouts. Today looks equally nice and an opportunity to start direct seeding and planting from the greenhouse.

This year may be the best yet start to the garden. I’m hopeful even though a lot of weeding and combating pests lies ahead.

There will be spring garlic from the volunteer patch and arugula planted March 2 is ready to harvest. I’m reviewing cook books for ideas, seeking a spring pasta dish as a chance to combine fresh arugula and last season’s garlic. Repetition is anathema to having a kitchen garden so a key ingredient will be spontaneity.

Mario Batali has a recipe using fresh mushrooms cooked in sweet vermouth with ten cloves of garlic. It sounds good. I have the garlic, but no vermouth and only canned mushrooms from the wholesale club. A recipe I remember from television is Jaime Oliver and Gennaro Contaldo making pasta using wild rocket they found growing in London. The spontaneity of their process is more what I’m after. Deborah Madison has a recipe called spaghetti with overgrown arugula and sheep’s milk ricotta. It’s closest to the ingredients on hand. Where our ice box is lacking and could improve is by having some pecorino or any kind of ricotta cheese. I make this once a year, so I’m in no hurry to get into the kitchen. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll use whatever ingredients are on hand.

Another spring-use-it-up recipe is a quick version of eggplant Parmesan. When the eggplant harvest comes in, I cut large ones into half-inch disks, roast and freeze them. Every so often I get fresh mozzarella pre-cut in disks from the wholesale club. Canned tomatoes are always in abundance and these three things together make a dish.

Make a simple tomato sauce using canned tomatoes (reserving the juice for soup), basil, dried onions and dried garlic. Whatever you like is fine, even a prepared pasta sauce. Place a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to coat the bottom of the baking dish. Seat frozen eggplant disks in the sauce and cover them with more sauce. Next, a disk of fresh mozzarella on each piece of eggplant. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top and bake in a 400 degree oven on the low-middle shelf. It’s ready as soon as the mozzarella begins to brown. I usually make individual servings in small baking dishes.

A last spring tradition for today is vegetable soup using fresh greens and whatever is in the freezer that needs using up. I always begin with onions, carrots, celery and bay leaves. Key ingredients were a bunch of fresh greens roughly chopped, a quart of canned tomatoes, two quarts of vegetable broth, frozen sweet corn, frozen grated zucchini, and a quarter cup each of dried lentils and barley. There are few rules other than starting with mirepoix and whatever diners like and needs to be used up. It made about a gallon of soup.

Living with a kitchen garden is the center of so much. When arugula, garlic and spring onions start to come in we are ready to break the long winter absence of fresh vegetables.


Brad Kunkel for Johnson County Sheriff

Brad Kunkel Formally Announcing Campaign for County Sheriff, May 5, 2019.

There is a Democratic primary race between Brad Kunkel and Al Fear. I’m supporting Brad Kunkel and here’s why.

He has been a Johnson County deputy sheriff since 2001. His work well prepared him to manage county law enforcement with a minimal learning curve.

He is well-known in the community, having served on the Solon City Council where the decisions he made were well-considered and thoughtful. He has a proven record in governance.

He is engaged in the community, active in many important groups. He is notably a board member of 100+ Men Who Care and of the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

He is willing to engage with community members individually. Brad and I have had numerous conversations about gardening, especially since he moved to a more rural part of the county. He has the temperament to get along with people and that’s important in an increasingly diverse county.

I hope you will join me in voting for Brad Kunkel for sheriff as our candidate in the June 2 primary election.

~ Published in the May 7, 2020 edition of the Solon Economist